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Madden NFL is still wildly popular 20 years later

Brett Favre is coming to Tampa Bay after all.

You just won't be seeing him as a Buccaneer. Instead, you'll see him on the cover of Madden NFL 09, the latest installment of Electronic Arts' super-popular video game franchise. Developed at EA Tiburon studios in Orlando, the game hits stores Tuesday.

As Favre enters his 18th season, Madden, named for the former NFL head coach and current NBC broadcaster, celebrates its 20th. And like the feet in John Madden's Tough Actin' Tinactin commercials, the series is on fire.

Since its launch in 1989 on the Apple II computer, it has sold more than 70-million copies. Year after year it ranks among the top 10 best-selling video games, and most years it ranks among the top five. Brett Favre has done lots of things — including captivate America with a riveting televised jet landing last week — but even he hasn't sold that many video games.

Madden football is very much intertwined with the growth of the EA brand, said David Tinson, a spokesman for EA Sports, a division of Electronic Arts.

"It's hard to imagine the video game industry, let alone Electronic Arts, without Madden football," Tinson said.

According to market research firm NPD Group, EA sold 7.7-million copies of Madden 06, 7.7-million copies of Madden 07 and 6.6-million copies of Madden 08. And since 1995, the year NPD began tracking sales, Madden has pulled in $2.4-billion.

Few franchises enjoy such consistency, said Anita Frazier, a video game industry analyst with NPD.

"It's the kind of consistent reliable property that retailers can count on to bring people in the doors, each and every August," Frazier said. "Consumers can be very fickle about their entertainment choices, so this level of stability is quite remarkable."

Yes, consumers are fickle (come on, be honest, isn't your Wii Fit in the closet already?), but EA makes it hard for them to forget about Madden.

Last year, for Madden NFL 08, EA hosted a launch party in Times Square, and Ozzy Osbourne performed a song featured in the game.

This year, EA is taking over the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., using a stadium to launch its video game. The event, called Maddenpalooza, takes place today. Attendees can play Madden 09 before its midnight release on one of 300 Xbox 360 kiosks.

While EA certainly markets the heck out of the Madden franchise, its stability is less remarkable when you consider it hasn't had any real competition for years, allowing Madden to capture 3 percent of the $9.6-billion in U.S. software sales in 2007, according to NPD.

In December 2004, EA purchased exclusive licensing rights from the NFL. The deal came at a time when EA was facing strong competition from Take-Two Interactive and Sega, whose $19.95 NFL 2K5 product was well received by gamers and critics. EA recently tried to take over Take-Two, but the brand known for its hit Grand Theft Auto series has repeatedly rejected the $2-billion offer.

EA Sports' director of NFL marketing, Chris Erb, attributes the franchise's domination to the Madden brand, the strength of the NFL and the game's authenticity. Said Erb: "If you do something for 20 years, you've got to be pretty good at it."

Thomas Bassinger can be reached at tbassinger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8729.

Madden NFL 09

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Platforms: Nintento DS, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Xbox and Xbox 360

Cost: $29.99 to $89.99

Rating: E (Everyone)

Madden NFL is still wildly popular 20 years later 08/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 15, 2008 1:53pm]

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